Old-school photography remains popular among a small but growing community of hobbyists, professional photographers, and artists. In fact, the process of shooting analog film and developing it has caught on among younger generations, too. People are putting down their smartphones and digital single-lens reflex (digital SLR or DSLR) cameras to explore 35-millimeter film, the standard photographic film format for analog single-lens reflex (SLR) still cameras and motion picture cameras. 35mm film is arguably the most popular film format among enthusiasts who choose analog over digital. It was invented in the late 19th century, and the first movie shot in 35mm was released in 1903. Given how technology has changed since then, it’s exciting to see that there are so many varieties of 35mm film available today. Read on to see the ones we recommend!
Buying Guide for 35mm Film
Why buy 35mm film?
The most common alternative to 35mm film is 120mm; the debate about which is better is contentious among analog film fans and professional photographers. The obvious difference is the area of the image. Because 35mm is the smaller format and has a lower resolution, 35mm photos will typically have a slightly blurry or grainy quality, which is kind of a hip feature among film lovers. Compared to 120mm film, 35mm is easier to find in stores, largely because it’s more popular. It’s also less expensive, and therefore, more accessible to people in general. In contrast to larger frame cameras, 35mm cameras are smaller and therefore lighter and easier to carry around. That’s a huge plus when you’re traveling or out for a long day of shooting. Additionally, 35mm has the widest range of emulsions to select from, 36 exposures per roll (versus 16 per roll with 120mm film).
What should you look for in 35mm film?
- Film Type: You’d think 35mm film is sufficient as a classification. But within 35mm films, there are variations to consider. There’s color negative, black-and-white, and slide film (aka positive, reversal, or transparency film). Black-and-white film has a wider stop range and is, therefore, more forgiving if you miscalculate your exposure. Each type of film has slightly different visual attributes, and most avid photographers have a go-to for grainy quality, high saturation, or contrast.
- Cost: Shooting 35mm is less expensive overall; both the film and most 35mm cameras are financially feasible. This is very helpful when you’re learning film since it allows you to make mistakes and experiment more effectively. But say you’re considering two brands of color negative film and one is more expensive. Look at the details of each, even conduct your own research to find out if the expense is justifiable.
Developing: You can choose between developing your own or taking it to a photo-finishing laboratory or commercial chain establishment. There are pros and cons of each method. Student photographers are often taught how to develop film using a darkroom and make prints in a separate room lighted by a safe light. Color negative film can also be developed in a darkroom, but it must be printed in a darkroom as well. Scanning negatives followed by digital printing is much more common today, mainly because it’s faster.
What else do you need to know about 35mm film?
The type and brand of film you choose to work with will have its own set of technical specifications and qualities, all of which will impact your photographs. But the film itself isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get the photographs you want; other factors impact the outcome as well. With some experience, you’ll know how your camera impacts your shots, not to mention the exposure settings you use, the environments (indoor or outdoor) you choose to work in, lighting variations, and the development process. Get to know the films we review here, take into account the limitations of your camera, and make the best choice for you. Then have fun taking pictures!
Our Picks for the Best 35mm Film
Fujifilm Fuji Superia X-TRA 3-Pack ISO 400
This color-negative film performs fantastically in conditions with the full range of light intensities, both indoors and outdoors.
Pros: Fujifilm Fuji Superia X-TRA has lots to offer. For one thing, it’s a great color-negative film for beginners because it’s so versatile and easy to use; plus, it’s widely available and affordable. This high-performance, high-speed (ISO 400) film performs best in conditions with lots of light or low light with a flash, both indoors and outdoors. It brings out a warm vibrancy in color, contrast, and overall brightness. The texture is grainy, but it maintains sharpness and contrast. FujiFilm Fuji Superia X-TRA 400 has an average exposure latitude, the degree to which over or underexposure will produce great results.
Cons: This film is light-sensitive, so you may want to avoid low-light indoor and outdoor environments. Some users report a tendency to give skin a pink tone, which may negatively affect the outcome of portraits.
Bottom Line: In sum, if you’re looking for a high-quality, color-negative film at an affordable price, we recommend you check out this film. For beginners, it’s an obvious great pick. It’s low-cost, easy to use, and its average exposure latitude characteristic gives you room to make some mistakes and still get great photographs.
Ritz Camera Kodak Tri-X 400TX Black-and-White Film
This black-and-white film impresses with its fine grain, rich tonality, and response to high-speed action.
Lomography Color Negative 400 ISO 35mm
This film features high-detail 400 ISO and produces the over-saturated colors and heavy blacks of Lomography.
Pros: To get an idea if Lomography Color Negative 400 ISO 35mm is right for you, we’ll give you a short background on the Lomagraphy analog camera movement. In 1992, a group of Viennese students interested in the surreal, shadowy, optical distortions, super-saturated color effects produced by Russian camera Lomo LC-A with its seminal Minitar-1 founded the Lomographic Society International for like-minded photographers who were invested in experimenting with the camera. Lomography is an art movement, a community, and a business. The Lomography Color Negative 400 ISO 35mm is one of many of their film products. It’s popular for its impressive versatility. It delivers all the Lomography effects you’re looking for, like oversaturated colors, heavy blacks, sharp whites, and fine grain color negative. The high detail and fast 400 ISO performs well even under mixed light conditions. You get three rolls, each with 36 exposures, at an affordable price.
Cons: While you can get this film developed just about everywhere film is sold, your artfully crafted shots will likely come out a lot better at a photo-finishing laboratory. This is the case no matter what analog film you use, but it may pay off especially with this 35mm product because you want the crazy blurring, optical distortion, and oversaturation in your photos. Establishments like drugstores may do a poorer job developing them.
Bottom Line: If you’re interested in venturing into the photography world, Lomography is a great place to start, and their Color Negative 400 ISO 35mm offers the key to that adventure. Forget about perfect lighting, focus, and angle. Just play!
Kodak E100G Professional ISO 100
This slide film delivers a super fine grain and rich, saturated color without distortion.
Pros: This film truly is a professional film. Unlike other films we’ve reviewed so far, Kodak E100G Ektachrome is a slide or color reversal film. As a positive film, you don’t follow the same development process as with negative films. Rather than create a negative to then print as a positive, your Kodak E100G slide film is already positive. It’s known for its use by National Geographic photographers and as a motion picture film stock. Kodak E100G surpasses other color reversal films in terms of its super fine grain and rich saturated color. More specifically, this film captures reality as you see it; the tones and colors match those of the subject you’re photographing. It’s great for portraiture and landscapes.
Cons: Because Kodak E100G is a demanding film, one that requires skillful fine-tuning by professionals to achieve extraordinary results, it’s finicky and not user-friendly. If you’re a beginner, don’t start here. Kodak E100G is unforgiving of poor exposure and, therefore, requires that you have a meter and know how to use it. It’s expensive and difficult to develop unless you have the right equipment and experience. It also demands a specific six-step developing process, and not all photo lab processors are equipped for it.
Bottom Line: If you’re ready to take your craft to the next level, seriously consider Kodak E100G. It’s a great challenge for experienced photographers who want to burnish their skills and capture the highest-quality images possible. However, If you’re a beginner or intermediate photographer, you may find Kodak E100G too complicated, expensive, and unforgiving.
CineStill 800135 800 Tungsten ISO 800 Color Film
This motion picture film made for still film can be developed at home or a film developing lab. It's great for tungsten, incandescent, fluorescent, and low light.
Pros: Enter the world adjacent to motion picture film (ECN-2) used today by professional cinematographers. CineStill Film uses the same emulsion technology in motion picture film to make a still photography film product for C-41 processing. But how can you process CineStill in a standard film processor? Because CineStill does not have Remjet backing, the layer on the base of motion picture film that protects the film from halation during exposure, among other things. That means you can process your film in standard C-41 photo lab machines or at home. It’s made to shoot in tungsten environments, as well as incandescent, fluorescent, and low light. You can push the film up to three stops to ISO 3200 to achieve your desired effects, such as halation.
Cons: CineStill Film 800135 800 Tungsten film doesn’t have a long shelf-life. You should store unexposed rolls in the fridge and shoot them within six months of purchase to achieve optimal results. Exposed film should be processed promptly in C-41 chemicals for best results.
Bottom Line: This is a favored film by photographers who know its value. If you’re familiar with 35mm film and know when to use what film and why, and you know how to and where to process your negatives, by all means, try CineStill out. If you’re new to photography, it may not be the product for you.
Within the 35mm corner of the greater world of film, there’s one that’s ideal for you. As you’ve seen, there are lots of things to take into account, from film type to ease of development to cost. If you’re a professional photographer, you probably know exactly which film you want. For total beginners to intermediate photographers, making a decision on which film to buy can be trickier. You have to know your camera, the subjects you want to shoot, and the type of environment. Once you have a general idea for your project, you can make your decision based on the lighting you expect to encounter and the type of emulsion you wish to achieve. On the other hand, you could just buy the film that interests you, regardless of your skill level, to experiment with and enjoy yourself!